Irish Pork Pulled After Dioxin Scare

The EU is recommending all Irish pork products be pulled from shelves after dioxin levels registering 100 times the EU maximum were found over the weekend

Just in time for Christmas, the European Union has recommended all Irish pork products be pulled from shelves after Irish authorities found dioxins in pork meat about 100 times the EU maximum level over the weekend.

While refraining from ordering a total export ban on the country's pork products, the European executive warned that a total of 12 member states and a further nine countries beyond the EU may have received tainted pig meat.

Food safety commissioner Androulla Vassiliou on Monday (8 December) said however all member states should pull any Irish pork products and submit them to testing.

"The commission is following very closely this contamination incident to ensure public health protection," she said. "We don't feel at present we need to take further action."

During routine monitoring by the Irish authorities for a range of contaminants, elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found in pork meat from farms in the Republic of Ireland, according to the commission.

Contaminated animal feed had been sent to 10 pig farms that produce around 10 percent of the total supply of pigs in the country. However, animals from these farms are processed by meat plants that deliver some 80 percent of Ireland's pork and pork products.

The commission believes the problem is likely to have started in September of this year.

"As these PCB levels might be an indicator for unacceptable dioxin contamination, further investigations were immediately started to determine the dioxin content and to identify the possible source of contamination," the EU executive said in a statement.

Long-term high-level exposure to dioxins may cause cancer. However, short-term exposure does not result in adverse health effects.

The pig meat may have been delivered to Belgium, Britain, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Sweden, the commissioner said.

Beyond the EU, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States may also have received the meat.

Besides pigs, the contaminated feed was also delivered to some cattle farms, although no dairy farms have been affected.

As cows mostly eat grass, the presence of the contaminated feed in a cattle diet will be much more limited than in a pig diet, said the commission, but, as a precautionary measure, the affected cattle farms have been blocked and an investigation is ongoing to determine if any beef is also contaminated at unacceptable levels.

Some 100,000 pigs are due to be slaughtered to contain the problem, while hundreds of people are already being laid off work.

The food scare comes at a terrible time for Ireland, already hit hard by the financial crisis and just ahead of Christmas, when families would be buying more ham and pork than usual.

The pork industry is worth some €368 million a year to the country.

Food safety experts from the 12 EU states are to meet later on Monday, with additional meetings to take place on Wednesday and Friday.

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